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A Decent Factory August 31, 2007

Posted by Laxmi Goutham Vulpala in case studies.
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In this documentary Nokia finds itself in a very interesting position. After being included in an Ethical Mutual fund, Nokia’s executives want some introspection done by asking the question “Are we really Ethical?” They then decide to send an audit team to find the results at one of their suppliers. The struggle is clearly evident right at the beginning of the documentary when the question is turned into if they want to be really ethical or if all they are doing is a PR exercise to appear ethical? 

 Apart from highlighting the conflicts between a corporation’s corporate social responsibility/ ethical standards it needs to adhere to vs. the primary motive of profit making. It raises several interesting questions like

  • When multinationals are operating business and have suppliers all over the word whose standards for ethics apply? 
  • In the globalized world where suppliers have their own suppliers How far in the supply chain is the company responsible for as far as enforcing ethical behavior is concerned?
  • If the standards of developed countries are enforced on suppliers in developing countries then would it be considered imposition of cultural values one country over the other?

 

 What I like about this film is the way it provides an unique glimpse into working conditions in Chinese factories where most of the manufacturing work is outsourced these days. It also provides an interesting perspective on ethics by highlighting the grey areas in the factory without passing judgments. It is very successful in showing the problems facing companies in the today’s globalized world where they are being held responsible for the ethics of their entire supply chain.

I thought film could have been better if it had been able to provide a human touch to the whole thing by providing factory worker’s perspective on the issues that the Nokia consultant and employee are concerned about and the recommendations they make to the supplier.  The question of how important those issues were from a worker’s perspective would have been very interesting.

  The film shows how difficult and challenging it is to manage a global supply chain and at the same time be able to manage ethical concerns and issues with the suppliers, given little flexibility operationally to be able to change or push suppliers to do the right things. It provides a perspective to not look at problems highlighted in the documentary such as non payment of minimum wages, conditions at work places, working hours etc from a narrow prism of right or wrong or as black and white decisions, but rather go beyond the superficial facts, try and digger deeper into the issues, and see why a certain thing is being done the way its currently, as most of these fall into the grey area and come up with the solution that is right for all the parties and is the most ethical thing to do. Lastly it provides lessons in cultural sensitivity and shows how important things in one culture do not evoke the same response from other cultures.

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